Mona Kuhn – Works

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

This photobook is a retrospective of the collective published projects of Mona Kuhn, thus aptly titled Works. It is a compilation of her published creative endeavors that she has been laboring on for the past twenty-five years in conjunction with her principal publishing collaborator Steidl. In addition, there are also included some previously unpublished photographs.

It is a thick monograph with eight sections that correspond to the various books published by Steidl since 2004: Early Depictions (Photographs, her first book), EvidenceNative, VeneziaBordeaux SeriesPrivateBushes and Succulents and most recently She Disappeared Into Complete Silence. This book traces the evolution of her early figurative and landscape studies, transcending from the literal interpretation into abstraction. Likewise, a mature progression from black and white studies of nudes and gestures to color photography that embodies portraiture, moods and an environmental equivalent that would make Alfred Stieglitz proud.

Although Kuhn maybe best known for her naturalist nude portraits, I believe that these portraits are wonderfully complemented by her discerning eye for the natural landscape, whether revealed in color or black and white. I think that her studies of nature are every bit as contemporary as her work with the human form, such as wonderfully showcased in her Bushes and Succulents publication released in 2018.

She appears to carefully select her models, friends and new acquaintances for their expressive nature and willingness to work with her on their mutual collaborations. Her models are primarily young men and women while on occasion including some individuals who are young at heart as well as those on the verge of adulthood. Her staged tableaus frequently are composed with her subject(s) on the edge of the frame, their bodies truncated, which instills a sense of dynamic tension into the resulting photographs. The individuals are captured not at the apex of an event, but in a banal mysterious moment in-between, leaving the reader not knowing what might follow, allowing conjecture to fill in the blanks. Perhaps her images benefit from thinking of these as cinematic stills perhaps due in part to her living in the shadows of Hollywood.

With the close proximity of some many young nude individuals it is difficult not to sense an undercurrent of sexual drama and tension. Such as the photo in the page spread below with a nude shadow cast on the mobile trailer wall with the adjacent open-door way and throw pillows receding in the background, hinting at a possible afternoon interlude.  Her photographs are ambiguous as to the surrounding events, while providing rich narratives that captivate her legion of readers.

Her portraits frequently are warmly confrontational, with her subject’s direct gaze into Kuhn’s camera lens that in turn engages the reader. A wonderful example is below of two individuals, reminding us of a warm embrace of a mother and daughter, while their piercing blue eyes beautifully riveting that bring us into a state of contemplation. Her portraits of unclothed individuals have an intensity of purpose that is both engaging as well as unflinching in their naturalism. 

In her most recent published work, she further delves into variations of abstraction when her nude subject is lost in cubist fragments that complement and expand on her more traditional portraits. As an investigation of what is nudity versus being clothed, she offers seemingly nude subjects who appear clothed only by the shadows. Concurrently Kuhn intermingles her color with her black & white portraiture, harkening back to her earliest publication.

This book provides a wonderful overview of Kuhn’s broad oeuvre and may tempt you to find the individual books that comprise this monograph.

Mona Kuhn previously featured on PhotoBook Journal: Mona Kuhn – Photographs (2004), Evidence (2007), Native (2009), and Bordeaux Series (2011).

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Works, Mona Kuhn

Photographer: Mona Kuhn, born in São Paulo, Brazil, and resides in Los Angeles, California

Publisher: Thames & Hudson, 2021

Essays: Rebecca Morse, Chris Littlewood, Darius Himes, Simon Baker and Interview with Elizabeth Avedon

Text: English

Hardcover book, tipped in image, offset litho printing and trade bound, Bibliography, Biography, printed and bound by Artron Art Co., Ltd, China, ISBN 978-0-500-54545-4

Photobook Designer: Studio Kunze

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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